Monday, July 4, 2011

Becoming Apathetic: What the NFL/NFLPA Doesn't Want to Hear From its Fans

(When will the lockout end? Who knows? Do you care anymore?)

So, while at work today, a fellow co-worker (we'll call him T. ) comes up to me and says "Al, so you think there will ever be an end to this lockout?" Most of my co-workers in my department and a few others in other departments know of my passion for football and all things Washington Redskins. Little do they know that it goes so deep that I write this blog better known as It Is What It Is...... to cover the Skins and the on goings in the NFL pretty much for the hell of it (completely free content here, folks). It's not the first time I've been asked that question at work. Matter of fact only a few months ago (about a week or so before the draft) I was asked the exact same question by another co-worker.

Let's just say that my answer to the question has changed a great deal over a few months...........
Initially, I thought this would be something that would come down to the last moment...before the draft. But neither side seemed to be interested in getting a deal done. Just pandering to the media or attacking the other side on Twitter. It also seemed that both sides wanted to win. Something that is never good when negotiating a collective bargaining agreement. The good news is that as we head to zero hour (the time when we hit where training camp, pre-season games, the Hall of Fame Game, The London game and possibly regular season games will be lost) both sides have finally gotten together to try to hammer out a new deal. The problem is that there is the constant ups and downs of negotiations and that all it could take is a little push and what looks like a "done deal" leads to people leaving the room and running back to the media (love those mysterious sources don't you?).

The good news for the NFL/NFLPA is that there is a deep caring interest in the sport. Both sides know they can wait to the last moment and as long as regular season games aren't lost most people won't care. Sure, I'm highly annoyed by this lockout but I'm just about in the minority of ravenous fans who follow NFL football 24/7. Most fans are a bit more casual (nothing wrong with that at all) and will be fine with this as long as we see the season open on time. In some cases, missing a pre-season game or two wouldn't bother most fans either. Let's face it, pre-season games generally suck. Veteran players don't want to get hurt. Coaches don't want to show anything in games that don't count and fans don't want to pay full price for games that don't feature star players and have little to no meaning on the regular season (unless somebody gets hurt). On a fan perspective, the lockout still hasn't affected that much of the status quo. Plus, unlike the NBA there's not much for NFL fans to turn towards as an  football alternative. The CFL/AFL/UFL? Not really. Either each of those leagues have rules/styles that don't match up to the NFL or the talent level is just not equal to the NFL. NCAA football? I never really had the college football experience personally and I hate the BCS system. The NBA has the issue of competing with NCAA basketball, which has the best tournament set up possibly in all sports.

So, right now the NFL hasn't lost the casual fan. Nor have they lost the fantasy footballers. I doubt anybody has started a draft yet since free agency hasn't even started. They won't lose my type of fan either. It's easy to rant about no football and demand protests or giving up tickets/boycotts, but let's face it.....it's not happening.
But if the lockout continues onto the regular season and possibly even into training camp/pre-season, one thing can and possibly will happen that will hurt NFL football:  fan apathy.

 Apathy is the main thing that can hurt the NFL at this point and it can happen if both sides fail to reach an agreement soon. It can come in two ways in my opinion. First, is with a long term delay in the regular season. People will find something else to do other than watch football. If they get away from the sport long enough, football may lack the passion to a fan who willing to spend lots of money or time watching. I know that as a blogger, it's been hard to sit down and write about football when I'm not that motivated (since not much is going on) and when I'm not sure when football will return.
(Lots of things I'm working on, no motivation to finish them)
The good news again for the NFL is that there is a nice build up for the weekly games as there is the season, so apathy may not set in in this case. The other way I see it happening is through a sloppy season. If the lockout eats into training camp/pre-season, then I would expect some really sloppy play in the first 4-8 weeks of the season. Think week 1 is usually sloppy, well imagine the quality of play when players get even less reps. with a limited training camp and a reduced pre-season. People pay to see professional football and if the quality level drops, then they might wait a year for when the league is back to "football shape". If a person skips out on football for a year, why not two? Then the league with have to go a rebuild its image similar to what baseball and hockey had to do after losing a season of their sports. I'm really writing in worst case scenarios here, but it is possible and I hope that both sides realize what they could potentially lose if they don't continue to talk and get a new CBA in place.

Nobody in the fan perspective should feel sorry for either side of this mess. Both sides are making money hand over fist and will most likely make even more money when the TV contracts expire in 2012 and NFL Football will be up for the highest bidder (whether that is Sunday games, SNF, MNF or TNF) between, CBS, FOX, NBC, ESPN, and TNT/TBS. In a down economy, NFL Football is one of the businesses that is making money. The only people who are/will lose in this are the team employees and NFL employees, vendors, stadium staff and of course the fans. It is very important for the NFL/NFLPA to resolve their issues and get a CBA done in the next 1-2 weeks. If not, fan dissension will continue to grow and even worse apathy could start to set in.

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